EPA Issues New Pollution Rule for Diesel Trucks, Buses

By Brian Hansen

WASHINGTON, DC, December 21, 2000 (ENS) - In a bold move that drew accolades from environmental groups and objections from the trucking industry, the outgoing Clinton/Gore administration today unveiled a new air pollution control rule. It will force drastic reductions in heavy duty truck and bus emissions over the next decade.


Diesel burning trucks and buses are significant contributors to smog producing pollution and soot, both of which pose serious public health threats. The EPA's new rule will drastically reduce emissions from these types of vehicles. (Photo courtesy EPA)

The new rule mandates that the sulfur content of diesel fuel be reduced from its current level of 500 parts per million to 15 parts per million - a 97 percent reduction. With some exceptions, the rule gives the petroleum industry until 2006 to develop and market this type of cleaner burning diesel fuel.

Additionally, the measure imposes stringent new emissions limits on heavy duty diesel engines, a move designed to make trucks and busses some 95 percent cleaner than the models currently operating on America's highways. Engine manufacturers will have until 2007 to start meeting the tough new exhaust standards.

Carol Browner, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, announced the sweeping new standards at a news conference in Washington. Browner said the new diesel rule could not have been enacted without the leadership of President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, who she said have "fought tirelessly to make clean air a reality."

"Today, the Clinton administration builds on its eight year commitment to strong public health and environmental protections," Browner said. "Today's action will lead to dramatically healthier air for all Americans."


Carol Browner has served as EPA Administrator for nearly eight years. Environmental groups say the new diesel rule is one of her most outstanding accomplishments. (Photo courtesy EPA)

All told, the new standards for diesel fuel and heavy duty engines will prevent 8,300 premature deaths, 5,500 cases of chronic adult bronchitis, and 17,600 cases of acute bronchitis in children, Browner said. The new standards will also prevent the onset of more than 360,000 asthma attacks each year, the EPA administrator added.

Kimberly Harris, a resident of Washington, DC, appeared at the news conference with Browner to share her personal reflections on the EPA's new diesel rule. Harris's six year old son, Tevin, has asthma.

"I've done a lot of soul searching as a mother to help my son's struggle to breathe and the trips to the hospital have been horrendous," Harris said to Browner. "America's children should not have to breathe the thick, dangerous black smoke that buses, trucks and other diesel vehicles sent into the air. What you have done today will truly make a difference in the life of my child and many, many others."


Diesel burning vehicles are among the prime sources of smog inducing pollution, which causes thousands of premature deaths and many more illnesses each year. (Photo courtesy EPA)

White House chief of staff John Podesta was also quick to praise Browner and her colleagues at the EPA for working to enact the diesel rule, as well as the many other public health and environmental initiatives that the agency has advanced over the course of the last eight years. Podesta called Browner the "driving force" behind the outgoing administration's environmental record, which many observers maintain is among the finest ever compiled.

"You've helped the President prove an important point that we can protect the environment and grow the economy at the same time," Podesta said.

Others see the new rule quite differently. Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, has signaled that he and other GOP lawmakers will try to roll back the new diesel rule and other so-called "midnight regulations" that the Clinton administration has enacted in the waning weeks of its final term.

"What is most disturbing is that the Clinton/Gore administration will promulgate these regulations at any cost," Inhofe wrote in a recent op-ed piece published in the "Washington Times" newspaper. "This last minute regulatory push serves two purposes: first, it panders to special interest groups for political gain and second, it preempts regulatory decisions which should properly be made by the next administration."


Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republcan, says that the Clinton Administration is trying to "cram through" a host of "midnight regulations" on the environment during its last few weeks in power. Inhofe has vowed to roll back the EPA's new diesel rule. (Photo courtesy of the Senator's office)

President-elect George W. Bush and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney will be sworn into office on January 20. Sources tell ENS that Christine Todd Whitman, New Jersey's Republican Governor, is the incoming administration's top choice to head up the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bush has not said whether his administration would support Inhofe's efforts to roll back the EPA's newly enacted diesel rule. Browner, asked about the possibility, said, "I certainly hope that they would not delay or undo this. This is much needed. This is about cleaner air for every person in this country."

"These standards are about providing a level of public health protection, and it would be my strong hope that the next administration will share our commitment to clean air for all Americans," Browner added.

The American Trucking Association (ATA), an industry advocacy group, maintains that it supports regulatory efforts to reduce truck emissions and improve air quality. But Walter McCormick, the organization's president, said that the EPA's rule should require cleaner fuel for all diesel engine users - not just truckers.

McCormick said he is also concerned that the new rule will require the trucking industry to reduce its vehicle emissions by more than 90 percent by using technologies that have not yet been fully developed.

"ATA is concerned that the EPA's rule is based on after treatment technology and controls which do not have extensive track records," McCormick said. Questions about the feasibility of the technology create uncertainty in our industry, compounded by questions about the reliability of this technology. This uncertainty could have a significant impact on the daily operations of trucking companies."


Some companies have already begun developing cleaner burning diesel vehicles, such as these municipal buses. (Photo courtesy EPA)

Browner dismissed that argument, noting that innovative companies are already working to develop clean burning diesel engines. Moreover, the EPA is giving the trucking industry an unprecedented amount of lead time to bring itself into compliance with the new rule, she said.

"We are giving more notice to the industry as to what the pollution threshold requirements will be than any other major rule we have ever announced, Browner said. "We believe we have been more than responsive to some of the concerns that have been raised."

Under the EPA's rule, half of all heavy duty trucks and buses must meet the new emissions requirements by 2007. The remaining vehicles would need to meet the standards by 2010.

EPA has estimated that the standards will cost manufacturers up to an additional $1,900 per vehicle.

Oil companies have also questioned the new rule, fearing that they will not be able to economically produce enough low sulfur fuel to keep pace with demand. Red Cavaney, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said that the EPA's rule could create supply and demand imbalances.

"Diesel fuel is used in millions of trucks that transport the majority of the nation's goods. We cannot afford a shortage of this critical energy source - a potential outcome if government regulations are not coordinated and realistic in their expectations," Cavaney said.


Oil companies are concerned that the EPA's new diesel rule will cause fuel shortages. (Photo courtesy of the North Atlantic Company)
Cavaney emphasized that the American Petroleum Institute is committed to reducing the sulfur content in diesel fuel, which he acknowledged would better protect public health and the environment. However, the group maintains that a smaller sulfur reduction would have sufficiently addressed those concerns.

Cost is also a factor for the oil industry. The EPA estimates that the new regulations will increase the price of diesel fuel by four to five cents a gallon. The oil industry has argued that the costs will run much higher - as much as 15 cents per gallon.

Browner dismissed fears that the new regulations will lead to diesel fuel supply shortages, as some in the industry have warned. The EPA's program includes a number of "flexible" provisions, including extended deadlines for some refiners and special accommodations for small companies, she said.

The announcement of the final diesel rule was applauded by a host of environmental and public health groups, including the American Lung Association, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Clean Air Trust, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"This is one of the biggest steps to protect public health from dirty air in the entire history of the EPA," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust. "Dirty diesel trucks and buses will be history."

The Clinton administration last year unveiled stringent new tailpipe standards for passenger vehicles, which reduced emissions levels for sport utility vehicles, minivans and light trucks. Those standards are slated to take effect in 2004.

More information about the final diesel rule released today is available on the EPA's website at: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/diesel.htm.